Author Archives: Clare Creighton

Highlights from the 2021 Transitions Survey

by Clare Creighton

In February of 2021, the Office of Undergraduate Education launched the Transitions Survey to learn from first-year OSU students and provide insights about the undergraduate student transition experience specific to the Corvallis Campus. The invitation to participate was extended to all first-year students (first-year freshman and first year transfer students) who had matriculated during summer or fall 2020. Of the 4941 students invited, 22.5% answered at least two questions on the survey.

Recently, I had an opportunity to review results from several of the survey’s academic-related questions. While Erin Bird (Transfer Transitions Coordinator) and Megan and Danielle (URSA interns working on this project) are by far the experts on this survey and the analysis, I’d like to reflect on a few of the areas I found intriguing and share ideas for using those insights in our work.

First-year students emphasized academic goals.

Visual listing percentages of responses from 1113 students. 91% Enrolling in my courses. 91% Earning the grades I want. 88% Learning in my courses. 79% Making friends. 53% Physical activity routine.I’ve long been curious about goals that first year students identify for themselves. Question 2 of this survey asked respondents, “During your first few terms enrolled at Oregon State, what were you hoping to accomplish? (Please select all that apply).” Of the 16 options provided, the responses selected by the highest percentage of respondents were “Enrolling in the courses I want,” “Earning the grades I want,” and “Learning in my courses.”

I was surprised by the emphasis on academic goals, as I expected some co-curricular and social engagement goals to factor in as highest priorities as well. As a caveat: learning and earning grades are deeply connected to a student’s social network, sense of belonging, mental health, and support systems and these results don’t undermine those connections. I’m excited that these results offer us a chance to frame ongoing orientation experiences (first-year courses, fall term events) around students’ self-identified priorities. If students name learning, grades, and course access as top priorities, we have an entry point to frame resources and information in service to those goals. If we audit our own orientation and transition support, how often do these topics come up? Are they clearly addressed and visible to students?

Information about motivation, time management, academic support, and advising was identified as key to success.

Visual showing survey responses from 1109 students. 68% Motivation, time management. 64% Academic Support Services. 64% Academic Advising. 55% Costs associated with OSU. 49% Emotional support.Knowing what kind of help is available and how to access it is, in my opinion, a key component of student success. Question 4 of the survey asks students to identify “which of the following types of information are most important to your success at Oregon State. Please select all that apply.” Motivation and time management was the top response, followed by Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. These responses make sense given students’ earlier responses. Motivation and time management seem directly related to academic goals—particularly for students transitioning from a semester system to a quarter system, and especially during remote learning.

At the Academic Success Center, we often field questions about time management tools, breaking down assignments, scheduling exam prep, and more. Perhaps we can work as a campus to make these topics more visible and integrated within conversations, first year courses, advising, and other transition experiences. Students also indicated that they valued information about Academic Support Services and Academic Advising. To me, this calls for more reflection. What type of information do students need to access services? What information is important for them? What services are available? I believe students’ responses to the resource awareness questions can help us begin to answer these questions.

Increased awareness and more information may expand resource utilization.

Respondents were asked to identify categories of services they had used. Those who selected “yes” to having used Academic Services & Offices were asked what made them want to use the service again.  Those who selected “no” they hadn’t used Academic Services & Offices were asked what held them back from using those services. About one third of students who answered this question indicated they “wanted to use it but did not know what to say or how to get started;” a third said they were “intimidated to go by myself;” and 40% said “I did not know how to access the office/service in a remote setting.”

I find these results compelling because I believe they indicate barriers we can address with orientation and way-finding support. Many of us share information about resources, but often this resource exists, and this is its name. These results suggest we could better aid students by clarifying how to access resources, what to expect when they arrive, and how to get started. If we have time and capacity in our conversations, we could more intentionally invite discussion around concerns and barriers, answer questions, and help students develop plans for accessing resources.

Where to next?

I find myself curious to know the degree to which these trends were unique to the remote delivery of classes in fall and winter or if we will see similar patterns when classes are in-person. Lucky for us, Erin will be running this survey each year, and we’ll have more context for how students’ transition to OSU was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and which trends and patterns are more enduring.

If you have additional questions or are interested in more of the findings from the Transition Survey, I encourage you to reach out to Erin Bird (Erin.Bird@oregonstate.ed). The email invitation as well as the questions from the survey itself are available at this link: https://beav.es/Jb7 (Box login required).

Reflection from Different Angles

by Clare Creighton & Marjorie Coffey

Many of us are already looking ahead to when we’ll shift from fully remote operations to more in-person work. One of our values in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center has been approaching this work intentionally and with awareness of how the decisions we make impact our student staff, professional staff, students using services, and campus partners. As part of our planning process, we’ve engaged in few activities and thought exercises that we want to share in the event these might support your own planning.

Naming and Revisiting Values

Prior to fall 2020, we engaged in an exercise to plan for remote service delivery. As a group, we named our values as they related to supporting students and staff during times of remote work. As we anticipate a return to campus in the future, we now are returning to that document for reference. While many things are still up in the air and our process will be guided by university and public health guidance, we also are mindful of how our values can shape our individual, team, and programmatic decision-making process. Having those named values as reference points helps us ensure that when we do begin to transition from remote work, we are centering support for students and for each other in that process.

Reflecting & Designing Intentionally

March and April have provided a valuable liminal space where we lack the detailed information needed to start planning fall logistics, but we have experienced enough remote operations to begin to reflect on the year. We want to be intentional in our return to campus and move forward deliberately in our practice rather than defaulting to what we’ve done previously. We’ve dedicated time to unpacking experiences and learning from the past year and to looking at a return to campus from a few angles: What have we noticed this past year? What did we learn? What did we like and want to continue? We’ve asked these questions about our individual experiences as well was our program and service delivery. Creating space and time for these conversations and committing to action based on learning is helping us design a more intentional process.

Using Equity Framework Tools

We’re not the first to see an opportunity in the current moment—an opportunity not just to reflect on the past year and acknowledge lessons learned, but to critically examine our assumptions and our approach to work. Using Creative Reaction Lab’s “Equity Centered Community Design,” the Center for Racial Justice Innovation’s “Racial Equity Impact Assessmentv,” and ProInspire’s “Crisis as a Catalyst,” we have been working through a series of prompts as a team to think about the path forward. These tools help us shed light on barriers and inequities in how we do our work, which is particularly useful in higher ed where historical structures, systems, and assumptions are prevalent.

One important element of this process has been building awareness and humility in the limitation of our knowledge by asking questions like how might my own experience create gaps in my understanding of what others experienced/need? Getting in touch with our own experience and limitations then prompts us to think about who we can invite into the conversation to gain perspectives and insights. We’re asking questions like whose voices and perspectives are missing from our meaning-making? What do we still need to learn or answer about the past year and the path forward?

We’re still in the process of reflecting and gathering input from others, and our hope is that by the time we have completed that process, we will have greater clarity about the parameters that will guide our fall planning. Creating space now for this type of contemplation prepares us to braid together the reality of what is possible logistically with a renewed and intentional vision of what will best serve students.

Embedding Learning Strategies in Your Course

by Clare Creighton

In my 12 years at the Academic Success Center (ASC), I’ve enjoyed teaching dozens of sections of ALS 116: Academic Success. This course helps students develop skills and strategies for success in college-level learning environments. The course includes topics like time management, metacognition, and effective study strategies—all topics that students apply to courses they’re taking.

ALS 116 is an absolute delight to teach, but my favorite approach to teaching learning strategies is embedding strategies into the context of a specific course. In fact, I would argue that every course has the opportunity to help students make connections between learning strategies and what it means to be successful in that particular course or discipline.

With 5-10 minutes here or there early in the term, instructors can help students identify and apply strategies to support their success throughout the term. This is an easy way to help flatten the learning curve around college expectations and create an on-ramp for what is already a rapid 10-week term.

How to Get Started

One entry point for embedding learning strategies would be to ask yourself, “What learning strategies and skills would help students be successful in my course?” You could then follow that up with, “Where in my course do students learn those strategies and skills?”

Another entry point could be to review the list of strategies below and consider which activities might be relevant to students in your course.

Model Reading Strategies

Reading is used differently across courses, and students may not know how approach reading differently for each course. You can help by naming the role reading plays in your course. Does it precede lecture? Exist primarily as a reference? Support homework or exam prep? During the first week of the term, talking through how readings are used in your course and explaining and modeling reading strategies can make reading more manageable and effective for students.

Plan Out Long-Term Projects

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a long-term project. Students who haven’t had a chance to build project management skills may benefit from learning about a tool like the backwards planning worksheet.  Working together to apply this tool to a project gives students the opportunity to practice organizational skills like breaking a large task into smaller tasks and scheduling work over time.

Support Note-Taking for Online Lectures

We’ve heard from students that note-taking for a live online lecture or a video is different from previous approaches. We also know that there are many note-taking variations. Follow an early lecture with discussion. Ask about note-taking approaches and main points folks captured in notes. Share an example of how you (or a TA) took notes on the same content. Invite students to upload their notes and try different note-taking approaches based on the content and format of your lectures.

Make Study Groups a Lighter Lift

Students are looking for connection and community and ways to replace their typical in-person study groups. Talk about how remote study groups might work in your course and encourage use of tools to get started.

Encourage Test-Prep Strategies

Like reading, test prep looks different for each course. Direct students to Learning Corner resources on test prep or encourage students to attend an ASC workshop on test prep and the science of learning. Creating a brief assignment or extra credit opportunity where students reflect on and apply takeaways can help students tailor their test prep strategies to the course and content.

Deconstruct Assignment Expectations

Interpreting assignment expectations can be a source of stress for students. You can help by giving time during class or in online discussions for students to analyze an assignment, practice using a rubric, or plan how to approach tasks. This can also be a great time to let students know about resources available to help with their assignment. For example, a Writing Center virtual tour can make students aware of ways to get feedback at any stage of the writing process.

Scaffold Independence

With any of these techniques, you can scaffold to move relatively quickly to independent learning. For example, you could guide students through creating a study plan in advance of the first midterm, debrief the process post-midterm, then give students time to create their own study plan for the second midterm or final exam.

Embedding learning strategies early in the term can be a great way to encourage students’ use of strategies all term long. If you find yourself looking for tools and resources to support students in your course – reach out! Email me or Marjorie, and we’ll help you navigate  resources from the Academic Success Center and Writing Center.

Reflections on the Remote Learning Experience Survey

by Clare Creighton

Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work with Maureen Cochran (Director of Student Affairs Assessment) and Erin Mulvey (Transfer Transitions Coordinator) among others, as we researched, designed, and launched a survey to understand students’ current experiences with remote learning.

Survey Design & Response Rate

We sent the Remote Learning Experience survey invitation to Corvallis and Cascade campus undergraduates on April 23rd. Having reviewed sample surveys (HEDS COVID-10 Institutional Response Student Survey and Educause DIY Survey kit), we developed a set of questions you can preview through this link. The survey was designed to be quick to encourage completion. We also wanted analysis to be manageable, as we have used responses to reach out to students who are struggling. By the survey’s close on April 29th, 2892 students on the Corvallis campus had answered at least 75% of the survey–an overall completion rate of 16.29%. This low response rate should be taken into consideration when interpreting findings.

Academic Themes from the Survey

For brevity, I want to share just a few things from my experience working with the data. Given the lens from which I work, you’re going to read a particularly academic focus.

I coded open-ended responses to the question: “What would improve your learning experience in your spring term courses?” The responses reflect what many university students are likely experiencing given the reality of a sudden adjustment to remote delivery. I’d like to highlight two themes and takeaways that I’ve found applicable to my work in and out of the classroom.

Themes & Takeaways

Theme #1: Students are experiencing an increase in assignments, lectures, videos, and readings and are feeling overwhelmed by the workload compared to previous terms. Some students feel that perhaps instructors think they have more time now when, in reality, their workload has increased dramatically and many factors make it harder to complete work.

Take-away: It’s worth revisiting my expectations (of myself, staff, student staff, and students) keeping in mind the backdrop of the pandemic. These are challenging and stressful circumstances. It is hard to stay focused and work efficiently, and screen fatigue has a tangible physical impact. Students shouldn’t need to name why they are stressed or apologize for feeling overwhelmed. At the ASC, each of our team leads is checking in with student staff—do they want more hours? Do they need fewer? In my own work, I’m asking, how can I demonstrate empathy and understanding in the current situation?

Theme #2: Students expressed a desire for course consistency and organization that would help them plan and create routine. A predictable rhythm, clear expectations for assignments, increased access to instructors, and coursework posted earlier were among the “asks.”

Take-away: Previously, I considered myself very organized (although don’t look at my desk). And yet, I am challenged by the shift to navigate all communication, information, and interactions through a single device. I can use what I know helps me stay organized to help students. For example, I can send updates once a week in the form of a digest. I can be generous with deadlines and offer structure and reminders to support their process. I can adapt communication to help students understand the focus of the message (what is different and important) and any actions needed (what they should do).

Conclusion

As we begin planning for summer and fall, we have a chance to plan service delivery with a bit more leisure and intentionality. Even a return to in-person delivery for fall will be different than in the past. This creates another new learning environment and transition for students. I hope to honor the voices and perspectives captured in this survey as we address future delivery of our services and coursework.

Knowing the findings from the survey can help the OSU community better support students, we have disseminated survey information through a few avenues. Survey information is for internal use only. A PDF on Box provides a high level summary of responses as well as coded themes from open-ended questions. Please contact Maureen Cochran for access.

Transition to Remote Delivery – What We’ve Learned

by Clare Creighton

Like all of OSU, the Academic Success Center (ASC) has spent the last few weeks getting programs and services up and running remotely. We’re happy to report that all ASC services are available. You can visit our website to learn how to access each one.  So, what have we learned in the process? Besides the fact that we love seeing pets in meetings, of course.

Creating Meaningful Interactions

While it seemed easy from a technical standpoint to conceive of delivering services through Zoom, we wrestled with replicating elements we valued from in-person interactions. Abbey identified a challenge for Academic Coaching “to maintain the quality of conversation and relationship building that students have come to know and appreciate.” The coaching team asked, “How can we convey care, listening, and support through video/phone conversations that feel more distanced?” Before facilitating webinars, Sarah and Julia grappled with how to validate responses and engagement with a large group online. Preparing for Supplemental Instruction (SI), Chris and Angela have asked, “How can we cultivate the same sense of community in a remote environment that students experience at in-person study tables?” We’ve tried many strategies for meaningful interactions in services and are using weekly meetings and debriefs to learn more from experiences this term.

Supporting Staff

One of the biggest “lifts” in preparing for remote services was making sure student staff were prepared. While we’d previously dabbled in remote formats, there has been a lot to learn around technology. Our biggest asset in the learning process has been our student staff. Over spring break, a team of coaches helped to experiment, troubleshoot, and explore the set-up before coaching went live. Clare says they were “creative, responsive, dynamic and energized” during the process. Strategists launched the Zoom room to replace walk-in consultations. Anika noted that “a huge part of the strategist role [has always been] adapting their approach, so it makes sense that they’ve taken to this so well.”

The ASC’s training and professional development for student staff is grounded in skills like independently evaluating situations, responding to student needs, and debriefing experiences to learn from them. We’ve been able to capitalize on these foundational skills; and coaches, strategists, and SI leaders have done an amazing job thinking through service delivery in the remote environment.

We’re also acutely aware of the need to personally support student employees. Anika stresses how important is to remember that “we are all human and are experiencing this change in different ways.” This also means thinking differently about availability. Abbey has arranged “regular drop-in hours where coaches can chat about whatever is on their mind, debrief appointments, or ask questions.” We’ve noticed an important part of our job these days is the support we provide to student staff, each other, and campus partners as we navigate remote work.

Adapting to New Environments

Our professional staff’s work environments have changed as well. Marjorie now has a window, and ready access to Selena albums, leading to spikes in productivity mid-afternoon. It’s not all fresh air and Entre A Mi Mundo in terms of change though. Anika has noticed that working remotely, “you miss out on some of those spontaneous conversations that can spark new ideas.” Clare has found that “being pulled in multiple directions from work to childcare is going to require a new organizational system,” and notes that, “[she has] a lot of appreciation for student parents right now.”

These changes have not been easy on any of us, and our team is mindful of the challenges facing the OSU community as we engage remotely. At the ASC, we’re doing our best to make navigating this term a little smoother and hopefully a little less isolating. To that end, we’ve found value in communicating frequently, being flexible, showing up as human beings, and, above all, demonstrating compassion for ourselves and others.

Welcome to The Success Kitchen

We generated the name and concept for our new publication long before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we approach spring term. In many ways, I think it applies now more than ever. From snacking to stress-baking, am I the only one spending more time in the kitchen?

Cooking and baking are, for me, an act in experimentation, sometimes planned and sometimes reactive and improvised. I’m not alone here either. The media group America’s Test Kitchen is known for the work they do testing recipes, cooking equipment, ingredients, and highlighting not just their results, but the process and learning along the way.

The title of this publication, The Success Kitchen, draws inspiration from that design. We at the Academic Success Center want to share with you some of the things we’ve explored, learned , read about, developed, and implemented. We want to share successes and pass along the learning when things didn’t work out as planned. And we want to spark conversations, highlight the work of others, and share collaborations that took us somewhere exciting—all around the theme of student success at OSU.

So, this is our inaugural issue of The Success Kitchen. We hope you’ll enjoy what’s to come, and we invite you to be a part of the process. If an article sparks an interest, please reach out and join the conversation. Consider partnering with us on a feature. Not to belabor the metaphor, but we’re eager to share what we’ve been up to in our “kitchen” and we want to know what you’re cooking up too.

~Clare Creighton

Director, Academic Success Center